Barbie has joined LinkedIn. Hurrah. This is not a celebration of my childhood life in plastic ‘so fantastic’ moment (I never had a Barbie. Think my sister did – she stole it from my grandma, whose foreign junkets meant tantalising toys in glass cupboards for her Indian grandchildren to gawp at). Hurrah because the pristine and paradisal content brand called LinkedIn might be changing. For too long LinkedIn has been like listening to U2, surrounded by its general smugness, where members share Richard Branson’s posts when he writes about ‘swimming in tea‘.
The entrepreneur Barbie in her pink ensemble, armed with a tablet showing bar graphs on it, even has a host of real-life ‘chief inspirational officers’ to commemorate female entrepreneurs. All very Sheryl Sandberg Lean In. Nah? And all a bit of fun while giving an insight into Mattel’s clever marketing of the the perfectly moulded plastic doll brand that tanked 14% in sales globally last year.
I think, Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO was paying attention when I asked him to make LinkedIn more “action packed”, last month.
Past the scripted stage shows; the strolls on the Croisette; parties on boats ( I stayed on one); and amidst the general hustling to be seen at the right spots,I bumped into him at the rosé-fuelled ad-fest carousel in Cannes, and was forced to blurt out “Full of platitudes and so uncool.” The ever so lightly-taller and heavier than I had imagined, Weiner laughed.
Anyone who has trolled or traded on LinkedIn has their own views on how the social site needs to develop. “That is the best problem I have,” he told me: “Meeting people all the time who tell me what is wrong with my business. Because everyone who uses it has a very personal connection to LinkedIn and their own personal experiences.” What next for LinkedIn then in terms of its evolution? I asked him. Because we are in Cannes, and this is not a formal interview, we bump into more people, the question goes unanswered and the conversation turns to self-esteem, and Jeff’s interest in Buddhism and interconnectedness, self worth and dignity. (the rest of the conversation is not worth reporting).
That’s when it hit me, LinkedIn will never pander to the cynical view or be the place for an acerbic commentary on business. Will never be cool. It will always be the place where you expect an element of worthiness, a place where Thomas Hobbes’ theory of power, dignity, worth and honour are discussed. In our world, which is inflicted by selfies, maybe being uncool is no bad thing. And if you have more than 45 million unique visitors per month (ComScore) then do you need to worry about your content never being Pulitzer Prize-worthy or being largely about PR machines of CEOs and business entrepreneurs telling us ‘How to’?
The posts might all be superficial, and the comments all a bit needy but LinkedIn serves as a great business utility for those looking for jobs, professional development, and those who enjoy wading through an endless sea of CVs. What it lacks is vibrancy. Its business model, where half of its revenues ($972m last year) comes from recruitment business, is to kill for. And with access to business minds from around the world, who are allowed to post directly to the site, it has evolved into publisher in its own right. But it remains far from compelling. There is only so much of corporate speak that one can handle.
Barbie on LinkedIn might however change that. Weiner was listening.